Shattered Images: How 100 Black Women Will Reclaim Their Identity
1 year ago
New photography project aims to shatter negative black women stereotypes
Black women and media have a long and strained relationship. For every positive image of black women on television, in films or magazines there are at least a handful that counter them. There was a time when black women were visible, multi-dimensional and revered. Long gone is the era when Claire Huxtable shined in primetime, Beverly Johnson graced the covers of high fashion magazines and Naomi and Tyra dominated the runway. Now, black women serve as props, arm candy and sassy bullies.
Ijeoma D. Iheanacho is looking to change that. The New York based photographer is spearheading an online fundraising campaign for "The reImagining: Photographing the Unheard," an art exhibit that will feature 100 black women portraying and defying stereotypes placed upon them. Loop 21 spoke with Iheanacho, 34, on her motivation, what images of black women upset her the most and what artists have influenced her photography.
[ALSO READ: Why Black Women Are So Attached To Hair]
As a photographer, explain the look and message of your overall work.
My work seeks to tell the stories that go untold. I try to give voice to people and ideas that find themselves on the margins of our national conversation. I like to work in a process that I call stylized portraiture. I try to capture the subject in a way that speaks in the truest voice, but still allows room for the viewers to bring their own interpretation to the photograph. I work in both black and white and in color depending on the themes of the project and I usually try to keep my prints to an intimate scale.
How long have you been a photographer and what made you first pick up a camera?
I always have to do the math on this question, but I have to say I have been shooting for close to 15 years now. I probably have the most mundane beginner story out there! I studied architecture in college. In order to preserve my work for my post-graduate portfolio, I started photographing my projects before my professors could get their hands on them. But the photography bug bit hard and soon I was pointing my lens at everything (and everyone) around me. I became fascinated between the truth of the subject and what I could actually capture and document. I have been photographing ever since, trying to bring those two extremes closer together with every project.
What upsets you the most about the way women are depicted in media/imagery?
To be honest I am torn between my disgust for the way we have been disappeared from the mainstream, and my distaste for the misrepresentation of black women when we are "allowed" on the screen. The example that has burned itself into my brain is from an episode of 30 Rock. The main character, played by Tina Fey, found herself so "afraid" to speak to a black female character, that she began to ask random - non-black - people how she should speak to her. They all told her to compliment her nails and everything will be alright. Well the scene plays out and of course the black female character is shown as overbearing, mean, and ill-mannered. The Fey's character blurts out she likes her nails and all of a sudden the black woman is all giggles as if she was a 3-year-old just given a sucker. Now this is a very popular, highly rated sitcom. To my knowledge there are no main black female characters to combat the stereotyping that just ran rampant for 30 minutes. It was a slap in the face, and unfortunately, an all too familiar one. I know everyone reading this has a similar story they can tell. The problem comes to bear when people take these stereotypes as truths and start treating black women in accordance to the stereotypes they are being fed everyday.